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Frontline Diary

17 April 2006: After two years of aid in Darfur, are we going back to the beginning?

© UNICEF Darfur/2006/Noorani
Eman Musa Eltighani with a young girl at the Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced people in Darfur.
By Eman Musa Eltighani

Eman Musa Eltighani is a young Sudanese woman who has been working with UNICEF in Darfur since 2004. In this Frontline Diary entry she documents her thoughts on recent developments – and fears for the future.

DARFUR, Sudan, 17 April 2006 – In a few days, I will have completed two years of work in Darfur, travelling between camps for internally displaced people in rebel-controlled parts of the region and in urban areas. Every day, I used to sense a slight improvement in the general situation compared to how it felt in August 2004 when I first came to the field, but now I worry we are heading back to where we were two years ago.

Indelible images of suffering are now deeply rooted in my mind: Endless queues of women wait for food rations under a sizzling sun. They carry crying children on their backs. Other kids wander around them, closely watched so they don’t disappear. A child dying of malnutrition sits on his mother’s lap. Children scream, watching strangers come and go in the camps. All they dream of at night are the horsemen who destroyed their villages.

Meanwhile, the same camps have become the focus of numerous efforts by humanitarian workers, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations to help provide as much of a normal life as possible for those who’ve fled their homes.

My concern is that those efforts will vanish with the wind if no serious action is taken to stop the deterioration of the security situation.

© UNICEF Darfur/2006/Eltigani
A child attends a workshop about children’s rights in Kalma camp for people displaced by the conflict in Darfur.

Deteriorating situation

UNICEF and its partners have constructed schools and provided supplies enabling many children in the camps to receive an education, and older students to pass their final exams. Child-friendly spaces have been established, providing recreational activities for displaced youngsters in a safe atmosphere. Over time, the camps became small cities where people started to conduct relatively normal lives.

But since the end of December 2005, various areas have been declared ‘no go’ for UN personnel. The day after an evacuation of humanitarian workers, waves of displaced people followed, uprooted again.

The Mershing camp northwest of Nyala, for example, is now deserted as around 55,000 people – mostly women and children – have moved to neighbouring Manawashi to escape violence. Such instability has been reproduced in Geraida, Belail and in Shaariya, Jabbal Marra and Golo in southern Darfur. There have been too many incidents to recall them all.

Some of the affected areas have been declared accessible again. I joined some UNICEF missions to such places. It was stunning to see how quickly the humanitarian situation had deteriorated. The question that came to my mind was, “Do we go back again to the beginning again, back to August of 2004?”

© UNICEF Darfur/2006/Eltigani
A small child in Jebel Mara camp for internally displaced people in South Darfur.

Visits bring back memories

During a recent visit to Kalma camp, which has been receiving new arrivals, we met Nazir and his family, who had just arrived from Abu-Agorra village near Geraida. Nazir, 9, is traumatized and deaf as a result of shootouts in his village. We told his mother about the child-friendly spaces where Nazir can find psycho-social support.
In Manawashi camp, we met 22-year-old Fatma, who had moved from her native village to Mershing. But when fighting erupted there, she had to move again to Manawashi. “I do not know what to do,” she said. “This is the second time I’ve been displaced. I fled my land, my assets and I left everything behind. I do not believe anyone even here. I do not feel safe but we have just followed the fleeing masses.”

These visits have brought the memories back from 2004, when the conflict was fresh in our minds. The number of displaced is constantly increasing, while aid is declining. NGOs are downsizing their operations just as crying faces are calling for more help.



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